Why Jon Voight is speaking out on Gaza and Hollywood activism

Actor Jon Voight criticized comments by Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz condemning Israel's operation in Gaza. As some celebrities take sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, controversy erupts.

Matt Sayles/AP
Actor Javier Bardem, left, and Penelope Cruz arrive at the Academy Awards in 2011. Both have gotten criticism for commenting on the situation in Gaza.

Hollywood celebrities on both sides of the political aisle are alternately supporting – and condemning – Israel's month-long military operation in the Gaza Strip as the death toll climbs to more than 1,700 Palestinian and 67 Israeli casualties.

Oscar-winning actor Jon Voight is the latest to jump into the verbal fray. But the Middle East conflict has already heard from movie actors, radio jockeys, musicians and music producers. If there were a scorecard, it would be tilted toward public sympathy with the Palestinians.

Last week, Spanish actors Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem, along with Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar, denounced Israel's aerial campaign in an open letter to a Spanish newspaper, calling for the European Union "to condemn the bombing by land, sea and air against the Palestinian civilian population in the Gaza Strip," adding: 

Gaza is living through horror these days, besieged and attacked by land, sea and air. Palestinians' homes are being destroyed, they are being denied water, electricity [and] free movement to their hospitals, schools and fields while the international community does nothing."

Their letter was "one of the most strident messages from any global cultural figure regarding the current conflict," reported The Guardian, and their comments provoked a fierce backlash from a number of other celebrities.

In one response, actor Jon Voight (father to Angelina Jolie), criticized Mr. Bardem and Ms. Cruz for "anti-Semitism," in a Saturday oped in the Hollywood Reporter.

Mr. Voight wrote that, "instead of my peers sticking up for the only democratic country in that region, they go and take out poison letters against them."

Voight was not the only celebrity to fling an accusation of anti-Semitism against the two Spanish movie stars. Shmuley Boteach, labeled America's most famous rabbi, wrote in The Jerusalem Post that "Penelope and Javier have crossed the line from vacant and hypocritical Hollywood human rights grandstanding into unforgivable anti-Semitism."

In Bardem and Cruz's defense, neither celebrity has been heard in the past to espouse anti-Semitic remarks. But under international law, the celebrities' claim of "genocide" may not pass muster.

The backlash may have led the married Spanish couple to clarify their comments. Bardem wrote a later letter stating "We detest anti-Semitism as much as we detest the horrible and painful consequences of war," while Cruz penned a plea for "unity and peace."

Other celebrities who have tweeted in support of the Palestinians include Pink Floyd's Roger Waters and Zayn Malik of British boy band One Direction, whose hashtag of #FreePalestine was retweeted almost 300,000 times among his 13 million followers.

Pop sensation Rihanna and basketball star Dwight Howard had previously tweeted #FreePalestine only then to have deleted their posts minutes later, with Howard saying he would never comment on global affairs again.

On the pro-Israel side, radio jockey Howard Stern spoke out in solidarity with the Jewish state on his Sirius XM show last month.

“If you are anti-Israel, you are anti-America," Stern declared. "It’s the only democracy over there. It’s the only friend we have who’s willing to fight and stand up for what’s right.’’

Joan Rivers also evoked support for the IDF operation in Gaza. “Let me just tell you, if New Jersey were firing rockets into New York, we would wipe them out,’’ she told TMZ.com. “If we heard they were digging tunnels from New Jersey to New York, we would get rid of Jersey.”

And American Idol host Simon Cowell weighed in, with reports that Mr. Cowell opened his checkbook and gave $150,000 to an Israeli soldiers' charity in Los Angeles last year.

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